Riverside city council member Clarissa Cervantes takes a selfie with event organizers, Christel Reyna and Maliha Williamson, along with community members and local activists at the Women’s March and rally in downtown Riverside on January 22, 2023.
Riverside city council member Clarissa Cervantes takes a selfie with event organizers, Christel Reyna and Maliha Williamson, along with community members and local activists at the Women’s March and rally in downtown Riverside on January 22, 2023. Credit: Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom/CatchLight Local

Breanna Reeves |

On January  22, 1973, in a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the right to an abortion was protected under the constitutional right to privacy. January 23, 2023 marked the 50th anniversary since the Supreme Court’s historic ruling that became known as Roe v. Wade.

The majority opinion, issued by Justice Harry Blackmun, stated: “This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

Nearly 50 years later, on June 25, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned the landmark ruling following a leaked document of a draft opinion. In a document labeled “Opinion of the Court,” Justice Samuel Alito delivered the opinion that “Roe and [Planned Parenthood v. Casey] must be overruled. It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

Following the overturning of Roe, abortion trigger bans immediately took effect across 13 states, resulting in restrictive access to contraception, abortion bans, and criminalization of those who participate in abortions. Other states, like California, took steps to solidify abortion rights and reproductive access by enshrining these rights in the state constitution.

Women’s rights advocates have been rallying since January 2017, as a result of the 2016 presidential election that solidified Donald Trump as the 45th president despite his history of misogynistic and dangerous rhetoric, demonstrated by a 2005 tape that resurfaced in which he said “I grab women by the p****.”

Dozens of activists and supporters attended the Women’s March held in London, England on January 18, 2020. Demonstrators rallied around the march’s theme, Speaking to Power, as they spoke about the importance of climate justice, women’s rights and economic equality (Images by Breanna Reeves).

Throughout Trump’s occupancy in the White House, advocates spent years on the ground protesting, petitioning and fighting to maintain and uphold reproductive and women’s rights. These efforts surpassed the borders of the U.S. as activists joined the movement across the world, in major cities like London and Mexico City, where crimes against women and femicide are common occurrences.

This year’s theme for the Women’s March is “Bigger Than Roe,” a reminder that there is much more on the line aside from reproductive rights, according to Maya Rodriguez, vice president of the Riverside County chapter of the National Organization for Women (RC NOW).

Stories of Triumph

“It’s never going to be an easy win. We’re going to have to fight. We’ve always been saddled with the fight since the beginning of time,” Rodriguez said.

Hosted by the Riverside Chapter of the National Organization of Women, Dare 2 Empower Foundation, Women’s March Inland Empire and the National Women’s Political Caucus of Pomona/Inland Empire, residents from across Riverside and San Bernardino Counties gathered in front of city hall.

Hillcrest High School students Emily and Ava pose for a portrait on January 22, 2023. Ava attended on behalf of a friend from their high school who was raped by a classmate. Ava said that their friend did not feel supported by the Hillcrest High School administration. “It is just amazing how much they choose to put the youth of today through — people who are going to be our future leaders. And it is heartbreaking, the things that I had to see them go through,” Ava said. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom/CatchLight Local).

Student advocates, local elected leaders and community members took the stage to share their stories, some as young as elementary-school age and some as old as pre-Roe. Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, who represents Riverside’s 58th District, attended the rally, along with her sister Clarissa Cervantes, who is a Riverside city council member and candidate for state assembly.

Former President Barack Obama tweeted about what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. (source: twitter.com).

“I’m going to just be very, very clear about this. There is nothing just, right or fair about abortion bans — period. Can we all agree on that?” Cervantes said to the crowd. “So, when we talk about abortion bans, what we’re actually talking about is limiting and preventing economic justice, education, justice, literally all things justice.”

Throughout the rally, several community members took the stage to share their own stories of triumph, tragedy and trials in relation to reproductive justice, like Christel Reyna, activist and co-founder of the Dare 2 Empower Foundation, an anti-bullying and youth empowerment nonprofit organization.

Left: Dare 2 Empower co-founder Christel Reyna poses for a portrait on January 22, 2023. At the march, Reyna shared her own experience with abortion and said that she hopes it encourages others to speak up about their experiences and feel supported. Right: Vice President of the Riverside County chapter of National Organization for Women Maya Rodriguez, poses for a portrait on January 22, 2023. “For every person who shows up, you are impacting the people who can’t show up and people who don’t know that they could have shown up,” she said about those attending the gathering. “It has a snowball effect.” (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom/CatchLight Local).

Reyna shared that she was attacked and raped nearly 30 years ago after she returned to her car in a parking garage in downtown Los Angeles. She said she was embarrassed, confused and scared following her attack. When she finally shared her experience with someone, she was chastised for not calling the police.

Her attack resulted in an unwanted pregnancy.

“I come from a very traditional Hispanic family. In my upbringing, abortion wasn’t something that was considered. We didn’t even talk about it,” Reyna said tearfully. “Thankfully, I was able to find resources to help me. Planned Parenthood is where I went to get my services. So, as I flash forward nearly 30 years, to be standing here and working in the same circles as this organization who was there for me during that time, life came full circle.”

Vice President Kamala Harris weighs in on the fight for reproductive rights of women.  (source: twitter.com).

Dr. Angelo Farooq, Chairman of Planned Parenthood Pacific Southwest, attended the event. As a father of a three-and-half year old daughter, Farooq explained that his daughter won’t have the same protections that he and his wife had under the protection of Roe.

“She is now going to be growing up in a life where that is not possible. And so we have to organize, and we have to vote and we have to get engaged, to think beyond just our current moment in time and think [about] what we are going to do to pass on that kind of energy for broader generations, not just my daughter, but for all the future generations,” Farooq explained.

Rodriguez said that this year’s Women’s March was by far their smallest turn out, but said, “that just means we’re tired, not done.

Residents of Arrowhead, Patricia Hagerman, Jacqueline Lauder and Anne Marie Van Hulle pose for a portrait on January 22, 2023. “I think it’s our fault. What did we do to build their [young people’s] confidence around these [issues]?” asked Lauder. Hagerman echoed Lauders’ sentiments. “Any right you have can be taken away,” she added.  Lauder said it is time for the “moms, grandmas and aunties” to step up and re-ignite their activism around the issue. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom/CatchLight Local)

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at breanna@voicemediaventures.com or via twitter @_breereeves.